Ron Goulart returns to the site today with a remembrance of Fred Ray.
Although Fred Ray is best remembered for the two decades he devoted to drawing DC’s Tomahawk, he had already been in comics for several years before he took over the buckskin-clad hero and, in the early ‘40s, he did some of the best straight adventure stuff in the comic books of the time, as well of some memorable Golden Age covers.
Frederic E.Ray, who usually signed himself Fray, was born in Pennsylvania in 1922. He always had an interest in history as well as in comics, and his major influences growing up were illustrators Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth andFrederic Remington, as well as cartoonists Hal Foster and, most important, Noel Sickles. He was impressed, too, by a nonfiction newspaper strip called Highlights of History by an artist named J. Carroll Mansfield.
A Kickstarter campaign for the book Sullivan's Sluggers gets ugly and then gets uglier.
Before getting to the regular body of this blog post, please allow me to reproduce the following statement from Kim Thompson (introduced by Gary Groth) in full:
Kim Thompson has been my partner at Fantagraphics Books for 35 years. He's contributed vastly and selflessly to this company and to the comics medium and worked closely with countless fine artists over that time. This is a tough announcement to make, but everyone who knows Kim knows he's a fighter and we remain optimistic that he'll get through this and report back to report to work, where he belongs, doing what he loves.
– Gary Groth
I'm sure that by now a number of people in the comics field who deal with me on a regular or semi-regular basis have noticed that I've been responding more spottily. This is because of ongoing health issues for the past month, which earlier this week resolved themselves in a diagnosis of lung cancer.
This is still very early in the diagnosis, so I have no way of knowing the severity of my condition. I'm relatively young and (otherwise) in good health, and my hospital is top-flight, so I'm hopeful and confident that we will soon have the specifics narrowed down, set me up with a course of treatment, proceed, and lick this thing.
It is quite possible that as treatment gets underway I'll be able to come back in and pick up some aspects of my job, maybe even quite soon. However, in the interests of keeping things rolling as smoothly as I can, I've transferred all my ongoing projects onto other members of the Fantagraphics team. So if you're expecting something from me, contact Gary Groth, Eric Reyolds, or Jason Miles and they can hook you up with whoever you need. If there are things that only I know and can deal with, lay it out for them and they'll contact me.
On behalf of Kim, we would like to encourage anyone who would like to reach out to him to feel free to send mail to him c/o Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, or email.
As an editor, publisher, translator, and writer, Kim's importance to North American comics (not to mention this magazine) would be difficult to overstate. He is not just a personally inspiring figure, but is also an extremely friendly, helpful, & enormously fun person to work with. We wish him a full and speedy recovery, and can't wait for him to be back.
On the main body of this site, we have another installment of Richard Gehr's excellent and too-infrequent "Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists" column. Today his subject is Charles Barsotti. Here's a brief excerpt:
GEHR: How did you end up at Hallmark in Kansas City?
BARSOTTI: I answered this ad in Advertising Age and got a call from this guy in Chicago. Hallmark then sent me a psychological test but I just set it aside. Then they shot Kennedy, and the atmosphere I ran into the next day in San Marcos was a little too much. I figured, "It’s time to buckle down, take the psychological test, and get serious about this." Anyway, Holly [William Hollingworth] Whyte wrote a book called The Organization Man, and he had things to keep in mind when you’re taking a psychological test for a big organization. I remembered to say things like, "I love my father and my mother both, but I love my father a little bit more." That kind of thing.
GEHR: Was Hallmark your first real art job?
BARSOTTI: It was really writing, at first. I was in the editorial department and then switched to contemporary cards.
GEHR: Was that where you began cartooning seriously?
BARSOTTI: Rapidographs had just come out and I splurged and bought myself a set. I was doing some sketches, and a friend of mine in a different department of Hallmark asked me if I would use that style to illustrate a little pamphlet of Ogden Nash poems. So I did it on my own time, and it got me in trouble in my department. That’s the way Hallmark's bureaucracy worked. That sort of set me off, and I sent some drawings to Mike Mooney at The Saturday Evening Post — and didn’t hear anything. The next weekend, I sat down and did another big batch of these things. I sent it in and thought, "Oh, this is it. This isn’t working." But! I got a call from Mooney at work. I thought it was a joke, but he said he had turned the big hallway at The Saturday Evening Post into a gallery. "I’ve got your cartoons up and down it," he said. He was a very ebullient fellow. Then I went there and met the editor, Bill Emerson.
—Steven Heller writes about an interesting Thomas Nast project I don't recall ever hearing about before: a traveling series of murals used in performances to tell the story of the American Civil War.
A lot of “graphic novels” coming out from major publishers these days really seem to be variations on the graphic memoir. A cynic might say that many of them derive their hook from being about death, illness, abuse, tragedy, etc. An alarming number of them have come from first-time long-form cartoonists and are aimed squarely at the sort of mainstream reader who enjoys this sort of confessional, miserabilist but ultimately triumphant story about tragedy and unfortunate circumstances. I’ll rattle off a few titles in this vein: Cancer Vixen,Stitches, The Impostor’s Daughter (perhaps the most egregiously manipulative example of this sub-genre). As someone who has long found autobiographical comics to be rewarding on any number of levels, some of these books feel like a distressingly cynical way to make money on the part of the publishers. Life and death is big business, after all.
That’s why it was so refreshing to read Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me. It’s less a story than it is a therapy journal comic, but Forney’s instincts as an entertainer kick in even on the dreariest of pages.
I know this is classically "TCJ" of me, but "Will Eisner Week" seems silly. I like Eisner's work very much, particularly The Spirit and the near-hysterical melodrama (that's a good thing) of A Contract with God, the gauzy false history of The Dreamer, etc. But the ongoing deification of the man does his actual achievements a disservice. As Gary Groth has written many times (that it's never sunk in is a testament to the unique mix of self-love and self-hatred that is comic book culture for men over the age of 40. What my generation does with all this stuff is up for grabs. Maybe nothing. Maybe it'll be "Fletcher Hanks Hangover Day" in 30 years. Or "Rory Hayes Mondayz".) the best way to appreciate an artist is to be realistic about what he did. I'm all for appreciations and weeks and blah blah. Couldn't it just be Will Eisner Day: A guy who managed to make a buncha good comics and inspire people? Or Will Eisner Weekend: Read comics by his assistants! Or Will Eisner Hour: Read Hawks of the Seas!
Eisner is neither the father of the "the graphic novel" nor is said "graphic novel" even a "uniquely American art form". He was a popularizer and an advocate. This has all been written about ad infinitum over the last decade or so. But! Writing this kind of thing is more or less pissing in the wind. This precise little blog post will not convince anyone. No argument can, actually. There's a kind of calcified fandom in place rooted in a striving emotional attachment to a father figure and the hopes for acceptance of the idols of one's youth. Kind of like the terrible "nerd culture" that's sprung up. It just won't budge. It's not disingenuous: I think that whoever wrote those taglines actually believes them, and all that takes is a certain passivity and (maybe) willful blindness. I suppose the irritation on my end is that obscures the facts and pushes what limited resources there are in this medium onto something both false and unnecessary. Telling someone to read a graphic novel is like saying "Watch some TV" or "Read a Poem". Why in the world would that matter? Well, anyway, another ranty aside down the hatch.
GROTH:Do you think all the arts have essentially the same creative process: writing, painting, making music?
MORIARTY: I think that they share. I think collaborative arts are different. I recognize certain tricks when I see Actor’s Studio guys on TV talking about their process. Christopher Walken, on one of the shows, he said something about, they’d all get their scripts, and he would go through his script and take all the punctuation out, so he wouldn’t know if it was a question or whatever. And so he delivered a line without any knowledge of whether it’s a question or exclamation, so the actor he’s playing to would freak. And I just love that, because it’d make the other actor improvise, somewhat. Of course, he’s in the dark himself, because he took all the punctuation out. I think that’s nice.
Another actor said that, on the stage before an audience, if you got to the point in the part where he’s supposed to cry, he doesn’t cry, because he wants the audience to cry — because if he did cry, then the audience wouldn’t have to cry, because he fulfilled what the need was. I love that, so when I hear these things, I find connections. But I think the real distinction is collaboration, because they have to work with someone else in that moment, whereas writers and artists generally don’t. So, it’s like a tightrope, there’s no support at all. No net at all. You survive the fall, but you know the fall exists. There’s no support structure for you. It could be a lifelong thing, like the Henry Darger life — I don’t know if he sensed that. I think there are differences. Jazz comes the closest to my sensibilities.
Steven Heller writes about the new Al Capp bio over at The Atlantic. That book, which I just finished, is long on gnarly anecdotes about Capp (which I'm all for) and very short on any kind of aesthetic analysis or coverage of the process of making that strip. Kinda like author's bio of Will Eisner. If you're gonna write one of these books it seems odd to be disinterested in the visual aspect of what your subject did.
Two recent tributes to the late Spain Rodriguez. One from Artforum and another, an absolutely essential memoir by the great Ed Sanders. Don't miss it, at the very least for Sander's description and accompanying photos of an art show he mounted at his space, Peace Eye, in 1968. If this reaches Ed Sanders somehow: We'd love to see more of those photos! Was this the first gallery exhibition of underground comic art?
More underground: A little bit on a previous iteration of Robert Crumb's published sketchbooks. Click around for a nice cover gallery.
And finally, Gavin Lees reports on an Elfquest panel at this past weekend's Emerald City Comicon.
After a short break, Tucker Stone is back with Comics of the Weak, along with his compatriot Abhay Khosla. Tucker takes on the latest big moves in superhero comics, and Abhay talks about Orson Scott Card.
—Robot 6 talks to First Second editor Calista Brill and designer Colleen AF Venable.
—Garry Wills namesDoonesbury the best political writing of our time, and picks a Garry Trudeau title as the one book he wishes Obama would read.
—Have we mentioned yet that TCJ contributor Sean T. Collins is spotlighting different webcomics every Wednesday? He is.
He realized he had achieved most of those things, but he also found that as time went by, he had to work harder to maintain the image—“not only my public image, but my own image of myself. I found that I didn’t dare look back over my life too closely because I didn’t like what I saw there. The failures, the excesses, the broken marriages, the people I had hurt and disappointed—these were all swept under the rug, but that old rug was getting pretty lumpy, and I knew what was under there—and I didn’t like it.”
Although he didn’t actively consider doing another comic strip, he realized, deep down, he still wanted to do one, but didn’t quite know how to get there.
“My god had failed,” he wrote, “because my god was myself—and it was the only one I’d ever really known. This self-god, the Great Ego, the Almighty Me, had led me through divorce to booze, to attempted suicide, and to most of the known sins. I still couldn’t recite the Ten Commandments, but I had broken most of them at one time or another. And I had done a pretty thorough job of breaking myself, as well.
“I realize that all this doesn’t sound like anybody’s finest hour, but it was for me. I had encountered, at age 46, a brick wall, both personally and professionally; I stopped running, surrendered, and turned to Jesus. Like all those people I used to deride, I became Born Again. And Jesus did more than change my life: he restored it. He enhanced it. And He began the process of repairing the lifetime of damage I had done to it.”
Then in the late spring of 1978, Lynde’s agent phoned him and told him that Dick Sherry, president of Field Newspaper Syndicate, had expressed an interest in Lynde’s creating a new strip.
And we conclude our preview of TCJ 302 with an excerpt from Warren Bernard's look at Wertham and the 1950s Congressional Hearings.
The artist and DJ Magnus Johnstone has passed away. I know very little about his life and not much shows up online. I think Ben Jones or C.F. turned me onto to Johnstone's zines maybe 10 years back. Those zines are stirring collections of drawings, sometimes narrative, most often not, but certainly of a piece with what goes on in New England. Most recently I was pleasantly surprised to see his drawings in Alan Licht's book Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Artists like Johnstone kind of hover on the periphery... I never quite knew where to place his work, but I liked it very much.
One of the great misconceptions people had was to quickly judge the drawings of Magnus without thinking. If you didn't consider the intention Magnus wanted to express then you lost a key element in the greater realm his drawings could deliver. Maybe his work was harder to ingest because you had to think. His work had an eerily consistent motif that appeared as if Magnus was channeling a precisely and detailed vision of our primal future. Humans were reduced to infantile adults, surrounded by strange new toys, and entitlements of royalty with all the trappings of our base foundations revealed. Deciding not to apply a little scrutiny to his Manga zines would leave one lacking at seeing reoccurring themes of ironic humor, social psychology, erotic hypocrisy, and political protest evident, to name a few.
From my understanding, I think some artists were shocked by the honesty of his work, and maybe their offhand rejection of his value was more a scorn of their own artistic failing. The craft of his Manga drawings were as true as their expression, and exhibited small signs of any other recognizable inking style. His vision was always on point and well-conceived, delineated in fly-on-the-wall perspectives that were addictive to the eyeballs and the mind.
Here are a few drawings from his site:
There's a bit about Johnstone's role in Boston hip hop here. My condolences to his family.
R. Fiore helps February come to a close with a typically excellent end-of-2012 column that will gladden winter-hardened hearts. He apologizes for the tardiness, but speaking personally, I prefer reading these kind of things nearly any time besides December and early January, when my eyes are most likely to glaze over at the sight of a top-ten list. Here's a bit:
[Skippy's] full-scale revival had to wait until the Crosby estate got over its preoccupation a trademark infringement case against the makers of Skippy peanut butter. This was a real life Rocky story, in that it featured a dauntless but hopelessly overmatched underdog motivated by principles meaningful only to itself subjecting itself to round after round of merciless beating before succumbing to inevitable defeat. With this crusade lost beyond the hopes of the most determined Quixote, they have finally been prevailed upon to authorize a comprehensive reprint of the cartoonist's masterpiece.
The positive side of all this is that it held Skippy back until the comics publishing industry was ready for it, and the LOAC collection is absolutely gorgeous. However poorly they may have chosen their battles, the Crosby family proved to be admirable custodians of the archives. The lengthy introduction takes us through Crosby's 20-year apprenticeship, starting as a teenager, and illustrates how he took the tropes of early newspaper cartooning and developed them into something that was simultaneously completely conventional and completely original.
In other news:
—Chris "Achewood" Onstad is attempting to transition his well-loved strip into the world of TV animation.
—Reviews of Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen's biography of Al Capp are beginning to spring up. Here's one in the Boston Globe. The Al Capp story provides some pretty rich material for a great book if the right biographers get hold of it...
—Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins) has been named the winner of this year's Herblock Prize. (Perkins was the first cartoonist (& nearly the first person) I ever interviewed, a million years ago. I remember him being very gracious to a young and clueless idiot who didn't know the first thing about how to do the job.)
—MoCCA has announced the formation of a juried prize, picked by a panel including Karen Berger, Gary Groth, Nora Krug, David Mazzucchelli, and Paul Pope.
—Stephen Bissette makes an interesting comparison between the treatment of superhero comic-book artists of the past with the SFX artists behind the superhero movies of today.
—HiLobrow recently began publishing a serializedversion of Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon—2419 A.D., more or less the dry run for Nowlan's Buck Rogers strip.
In this in-depth interview, Mort Walker talks about growing up during the Great Depression, serving in the military, developing risque versions of his characters for overseas publishers, founding a comics art museum housed in a concrete castle, raising 10 kids, and much more. Continue reading →